It was Shel Silverstein who did it for me. For my seventh birthday, I received The Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. I might have already been on a crash-course with writing, but those books of silly poetry sealed the deal. I fell in love with rhyme, rhythm, the way words can play with and around each other, and the hilarious illustrations were just icing on the cake. It grew my affinity for reading and literature, and I still have an emotional response when I read those poems with our children. Those books made an impression on me, and I have no doubt they made an immeasurable difference.
We know reading makes a difference for children and it often carries over for a lifetime. I’m always so curious about which books and/or authors made a difference for people as children. One of the first questions I like to ask people when I interview them for the magazine is, “What books made a difference for you as a child?”
Here are some of their responses:
Author/Illustrator Jeff Kinney writes, “I was a pretty good reader. I read lots of Judy Blume as a kid, and graduated to fantasy in the fifth grade. I enjoyed books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and Piers Anthony.”
Author Will Schwalbe says, “Books provided friends. They made such a huge difference for me that it is hard to quantify or to pick just one. I got to meet people throughout history through books. I cared about these people. Books have always quieted and calmed me.” He wrote in his book, The End of Your Life Book Club, that as a child he read Esther Hoskins Forbes’ book Paul Revere and the World He Lived In eleven times in a row.
Translator Lucia Graves writes, “I grew up without television or radio, so books were our main source of home entertainment. My mother used to read to us, a chapter a night—she was a wonderful reader. We’d sit on the sofa before bedtime and listen enthralled. And of course, we read our own books, too—I treasured mine. I remember a whole set of fairy tales, each volume bound in a different colour, and the beautifully illustrated Josephine’s Birthday by Mrs. H.C. Cradock; also the E. Nesbit novels—The Phoenix and the Carpet being my favourite. Reading was a way of stepping into the English world I had left behind. It was very special. I paid great attention to the print and the quality of the paper.”
Author Jim Higley (subscriber exclusive interview) says, “I grew up in the generation of Cat in the Hat sort of books. So much of my book reading came from watching Captain Kangeroo. I’ve always been drawn to storytelling that has a positive message. As a teenager, I was really drawn to memoirs. I enjoyed reading about people’s personal stories.”
Author Marlene Lee says, “I loved the Little House Series. I still have this Laura Ingalls Wilder fascination that needs to be satisfied. I took my own grandkids to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead. It is part of why I love biographies and autobiographies. My favorite genre to read is still adventure.”
Author and journalist Susan Maushart says, “Some of my happiest childhood memories were around books. My relationship with those books was close…verging on intimate. I remember my sister teaching me how to read and my mother read to us all the time. I fantasized about school and I was frustrated after my first day of kindergarten when I came home and I wasn’t literate yet.” One book she remembers making a difference for her was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Author Mary Redman says, “I was an only child and books were great company to me. I loved Caddie Woodlawn [by Carol Ryrie Brink]. I wanted to try a hoop skirt so badly and I spent a lot of time with those books as my companions.”
Author and retired elementary school principal Nancy Saltzman says, “For me it was Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal. My dad was from Boston, but we lived in Indiana, so I loved these books. It was picture books that I remember from my childhood, mostly memories from our parents reading to us and sharing. And then when I became a principal, I loved sharing all sorts of picture books with the kids.”
Digital Librarian Dr. John Mark Ockerbloom says, “Ever since I started reading, at the age of three, I’ve enjoyed reading both nonfiction and fiction. I remember the Granby Children’s Library, and I’ve always been interested in the difference books and other knowledge can make.”
What about you? What book(s) made the biggest difference for you as a child? Why? Have you read those books again as an adult, and if you have, what difference has it made to read with more mature eyes? What book have you added to your own child’s library because it meant so much to you when you were young?
Meagan Frank is the senior writer at Books Make a Difference.